High Carbon Weekend

Here’s one I wrote for Patagonia’s blog, The Cleanest Line, last spring. Seems fitting given that I recently finished driving (with a buddy, at least, versus the solo drive, a.k.a. “California Carpool”) through Wyoming and Montana, then flew back — hey, the plane was going anyway. Besides, I’m not going anywhere for awhile. Here goes:

On Wednesday, Scotty D called from California. A work delay had him with a few days to kill, and he had a room, a rental car and his company was paying him to sit and be bored.

Capitalizing on that human ability to rationalize nearly everything and draw simplistic stopgap lines for our problems, I figured a break would help my work. I’d fallen behind and needed rejuvenation, so Thursday night I boarded the plane on a frequent flier ticket. Free trip to Yosemite. Yes, “free.”

I emailed my friends and AAJ colleagues, John and Dougald.

“Nice, low-carbon climbing. But I’d do it in a heartbeat,” John replied. Despite his admission (and despite his being my boss), I can easily dismiss John with the undisputed trump card that our environmental crisis boils down to overpopulation. He and his wife have a kid. I have none.

Dougald replied, “You bastard.”

That bastard has no room to talk, anyway – he drives an SUV, which, even though he claims it’s a “mini-SUV” that gets 26 mpg, makes him the devil incarnate. My car gets 40 mpg, so I am clearly a better person than Dougald. Dougald and his wife have no kids, either, also making them clearly better people than Juan. Except that John – now ‘Juan’, befitting his move to Mexico, where he doesn’t burn fossil fuels heating his house like we do – is a good person whose writing and Imax movie inspire countless people with an appreciation for nature, which might make all of us act better – an influence reaching far beyond one person. And John has a beautiful family and he and his wife raise their daughter with a mindset that could have her as part of a generation that literally saves the earth – or, more correctly, saves our ability to live in it. We’ll need it with all these people. But they’re doing a net-minus-one, which makes them champs compared to people living in Africa. Clearly better people than those people, right?

“I’ll bet 95% of people don’t even know what a carbon footprint is and don’t care,” Scotty said on the drive from the airport to Yosemite Valley. He’s probably being optimistic. We definitely need more awareness, so maybe we should do one of those expeditions that flies halfway around the world to “raise awareness” for global warming.

“Besides, the plane was coming here anyway,” he said with a half-smirk.

“As created by the demand of the passengers, like me,” I replied. In fact, the flight was packed. Most were likely traveling on business, which, it seems, we all accept as necessity. So, let me get this straight, if you’re contributing to this house-of-cards with unsustainable consumption called our economy, then the carbon doesn’t really count. I suspect some vacationers like me were on-board, too, but they might have been visiting family, which also seems OK. As for the pure vacationers (it was spring break, after all), well, as they say in the credit card commercials, you work hard, you deserve it. And I love climbing, I deserve it. Surely more than the executives at AIG, anyway.

Scotty D on Red Zinger (the climb, not the airplane above), Cookie Cliff.

Besides, if I didn’t go, Cracka Boy (that’s Scott) planned to just go soloing anyway, so in a sense I may have saved his life. Then again, getting back to the population-resource thing, if Cracka splats… and, on top of it, if I didn’t fly out and he splatted, then I would, indeed, have followed the path of the righteous man. But that doesn’t seem quite right. Besides, our first day – an afternoon at Cookie Cliff – had me so in love with the world I destroy that I didn’t care about any of that shit.

Day two: Three-quarters up the first pitch of the day, hail turning to a full-on deluge soaked us and we bailed. Karma. Clearly. High carbon climbing karma. The universe does, as it turns out, revolve around me. We bailed and went for a trail run – it doesn’t get much more carbon-neutral than running. We drove to the absurdly ornate Ahwanhee™ Hotel and poached a parking spot. After an hour on the trail it was barely noon, so we had the day to kill. Marg-thirty. We’ve worked hard, we deserve it.

Back at the room, I showered, but where’s the soap? The housekeepers apparently threw away the soap – I’d used it once – and so I opened a new one. They lined the trash buckets with new plastic bags, despite our having just a couple of food wrappers in the “old” ones. Washed the sheets on our beds. Washed the towels. All totally unnecessary unless the housekeepers wanted to keep their jobs. I open my laptop. If the weather stays bad tomorrow and we can’t climb, I’ll have done enough to call this to a work trip – like everyone else on the plane – making it OK. Besides, Scotty’s on the clock.

I squeeze the limes, pour the Patron, and look at the packaging. Says right there on the box: Hecho en Mexico. I’m supporting businesses and helping people feed their families. Simple. And I’m sure the plane was coming up anyway.

Fine Fingers Marg (Corzo Silver)

Last night I finished my final marg for several days. Hmmm, come to think of it, maybe that’s why I endured such horrible post-op pain last time? Maybe it wasn’t the nerve block wearing off, but rather the lack of margs. The Dilaudid drip didn’t do shit. But a Patron drip? Think I’ll suggest it during surgery prep.

Anyway, since I’m light on the pain meds right now, only taking them only before bed to help me sleep, a marg seemed in order. Call it a “Here’s to Dr. Desai and his fine fingers having a great day” marg. Figured that, in the spirit of things, and since I’ll have to refrain in the druggie days immediately following surgery, I should make it a great one. Dr. Desai does complex surgeries, I do margs. We all have our gifts.

Groping for the best limes. Priorities, baby.

Wednesday afternoon is my third, and hopefully final, surgery. I’ll probably need another a ways down the road, to remove the freakin’ hardware store in my leg, but this operation – if all goes well – represents the end of my surgical repair and the official beginning of my recovery. Fuck yeah. Plus, I’ll get the medieval torture device off my leg – ever heard of someone so excited to get into a cast?

So it seemed fitting to sip just a little bit of a top-shelf marg. You don’t waste great tequila by mixing it with junk, if you mix it at all, so I took a small lime, rolled it carefully to soften it up, squeezed it, heated the simple syrup, then cooled it, added a splash of OJ, and I had the best, purest marg mix around. (Scroll down on this post for the exact recipe.) Skipped the triple sec – great tequila doesn’t need the softening, because it’s already so smooth. The tequila? Tried a new one: Corzo Silver, out of Jalisco, Mexico. Normally I only sip stuff this good – actually, a guy like me doesn’t normally own stuff this good – but, damnit, I wanted a marg. What fine tequila, Corzo Silver, a terrific blanco with a refined flavor and finish (as I discovered while sipping it on occasion in the past week or so) – thanks tons to Graham, Doug, and everyone at the Alpine Training Center’s recent community night for the unnecessary but tremendously appreciated “Kelly’s tequila fund.” It’s going to great use.

In fact, this marg tasted so damned good I made some extra to share with Dr. Desai this afternoon. Wait, come to think of it, maybe that’s not such a good idea. The whole steady fingers and concentration thing… So maybe I’ll save it for when we celebrate my return to days where I watch the sun first crest the horizon from the trail, the orange rays spilling across the mountains, when again I can breathe air that tastes even finer than fine tequila, when my heart pounds, my lungs burn, my mind eager and anxious and ready while racking up, those days where time disappears into nothingness and I feel like I’m soaring into a world so wild I could never, in a million years, have dreamed of something so captivating. Yeah, maybe I’ll save it for that.

Colin Haley just above the Col of Hope, midway up our new link-up on Cerro Torre, 2007.

Surgery Update (gnarly images warning)

“Oh sweetmotherofmercy, give-me-drugs!” For all my tough-guy banter about getting off the pain meds, I’m full of it. Twelve hours after surgery on Wednesday, I whined like Nancy Kerrigan.

One of the two incision spots from last Wednesday's surgery. The medieval torture device stays on until the next surgery.

The nerve block on my leg wore off way too soon. In addition to general anesthesia, they completely blocked-out (numbed) my leg, which greatly helps control post-op pain. So long as it lasts the expected 24–48 hours, anyway – through the most brutal period. But apparently the length of the block’s effectiveness can vary, due to factors like individual metabolism. Mine wore off after about 12 hours (damnit, shouldn’t my being a total couch potato for nearly three weeks have paid off in some way??), leaving me in excruciating pain, far worse than the no-pain-meds four-hour drag/crawl/carry out of Hyalite, with my bones grinding together. My little pain pump thingy by my bed seemed like a kiddie toy that didn’t work, and they injected me with a mg (?) of Dilaudid (hydromorphone), a super powerful synthetic opiate, apparently up to 10 times stronger than morphine. A couple of injections, combined with regular hits on my pain pump, got me through the night. They held me for an extra day, not wanting to release me until the pain was controlled. Sounded good to me. I got out Friday and spent the weekend sleeping (with help of oral pain meds) and sitting on the couch.

Can’t wait for this coming Wednesday, surgery #3, hopefully the last (at least until sometime a ways off when we might need to remove the hardware).

X-ray showing a couple of the rods of the external fixator.

So, to review, the first surgery, a fairly minor one, happened in Bozeman, when they installed this external fixator contraption on my leg. My leg was too swollen to do the major surgery then, so this thing went in to hold the bones in place until the swelling would allow for the big surgery(ies). BTW, I figured they just tapped the rods a half-inch into the bone or something, but the X-rays show that the damned rods go most of the way through my leg. As the swelling has subsided (mostly), I can feel the metal going through my bones. Too weird.

This past Wednesday was the first big surgery. They installed two plates and 11 screws, if I remember right. One plate spans my fractured fibula (a slender bone on the lateral – outside – part of your lower leg), which is the simplest to fix. Fairly clean break, not into the joint, no biggie. I’m happy to have it bolted back together now, because as the swelling decreased, the broken bone ends shifted back and forth damn near every time I breathed, making it hard to sleep. Didn’t hurt, it just creeped me out big-time.

The other plate went in on my posterior distal tibia. The tibia is the big lower leg bone, commonly called your “shin bone”; distal means the “far end” (the end by my ankle); and posterior means backside (by my heel). The posterior plate (and screws) holds together the chunks on the backside of my tibia, down by the ankle. They moved the big chunks back into place and let ‘er rip with the power drill, basically (though a bit more delicately than hanging sheet rock, I trust).

CT scan of my Pilon Fracture.

My distal tibia is a mess. It’s where I have this nasty Pilon Fracture. The outer surfaces of my distal tibia form a spiderweb of fractures. Much of the inner part – like the inside of a cone – is “heavily comminuted” – medical lingo for pulverized. You’ll see on the CT scans that it looks like there’s no bone there, since the bone got turned to dust. In this type of Pilon Fracture (disclaimer: this info is mostly correct, but I might have a thing or two slightly off), my talus bone – big bone in the foot – was stronger than the end of my tibia, and when I smashed onto a ledge after the climb (accident analysis coming soon), it acted like an upward battering ram and shattered my distal tibia (and snapped the fibula in the process). The hugest problem, as I understand things, and what could threaten my future mobility, is that it pretty much destroyed the upper part of my ankle joint.

This Wednesday, in the next (and hopefully final) surgical stage, Dr. Desai’s big task will be to install a plate or two to repair the anterior, or front side, of my distal tibia – check out the images…nasty. Will post-up post-surgery images when I get them. Man, I’m gonna be setting off metal detectors all around the world.

So, apparently once things are puzzle-pieced into place with help of the hardware, the big bones fuse together, and the dust inside somehow gravitates toward the bigger chunks and begins to fill-in and grow back into real bone.

This takes time. I’ll likely be in a cast for 4–6 weeks, which is great. Anything to get out of this medieval torture device thing – ever see those dogs with the lampshades on their heads after surgery, and they’re always bumping into things? Right… And in 8–10 weeks I’ll probably be allowed to start walking again. Limited impact for 3–4 months. Beyond that? “We’ll have a better idea after about six months,” Melinda, Dr. Desai’s excellent PA, told me.

For now, this Wednesday feels like a big deal to me, because it will officially mark the start of recovery. And while it could take 6–12 months until I’m feeling physically capable again, right now I’m just eager to move beyond the surgeries and into the long, uphill grind to recovery.

Another X-ray.

Another CT scan view.

Good Hands

While crutching at sunset last evening – my 10-minute crutch-walk around the block – I saw a runner turn the corner and gracefully stride down the street. I smiled and looked down, flashing into a dreamlike state where I felt myself again gliding over the earth like I did before and I will again, then climbing into the sky, the rock and ground disappearing beneath me like I’m living in a fairytale. It’s weird, but in those few seconds of tranquility and drifting, out of nowhere I saw my beloved old dog, Jezzebel, running toward me, ears and tongue flopping, racing at full speed to jump into my arms. Only two years into her life, a freak accident on a trail run left her paralyzed. Every day afterward I got her out, often strapped into my backpack for a bike ride so that she could once again feel the wind against her face, and she would smile and return to the world she loved and forget about her fate, if only for awhile. A month later I held her as she died, and in her final moment she looked at me with love, licked my hand, and then closed her eyes forever.

I don’t know where that came from, but it felt like another gift. I’ve never been rich but I live like a king, and when you live life you accept risks. My leg is minor. When I think of Karakoram sunrises glimpsed from a cold and sleepless bivy, the view of the pampas and lakes and icecap from the top of Cerro Torre after how we got there, of tying in and trusting dear friends in Alaska, cutting my teeth in nowhere Montana with the greatest of partners, our traveling trainwreck that somehow came out ahead in Peru, endless laughter and debauchery at campsites everywhere, living like a pagan vagrant feeling like the secrets of the universe somehow drifted through me in timeless moments high in the mountains, and just the simple times of cragging with good friends, I could break every bone in my body and I would still be ahead.

Around noon today, just before I slip into a dreamless sleep, I’ll wish for more good fortune in the hands of Dr. Bharat Desai, an extraordinary trauma surgeon who specializes in complex foot and ankle damage. Dr. Desai impressed me in person – nearly his first words to me, after all of the horrible things I’ve heard and read about my fracture, were: “This is fixable.” It’ll probably require another surgery in about a week, depending on how things look when he’s in there. He put back together my friend Wayne Crill after a nearly unthinkable accident on Mt. Evans ten years ago, and also my new friend Chris Klinga, who suffered a horrific accident in Eldo two years ago April. Both were wrecked so far beyond me that my break looks trivial. My friends Jonny Copp and Mike Pennings were first on the scene at Chris’ accident, and helped save his life. Wayne and Chris, both of whom are still climbing and fully living their lives, speak of Dr. Desai as if he walks on water, and I felt it in my chest when Chris said, “The one doctor that was the Jonny Copp of orthopedics and made it all possible was Dr. Desai.”

I’m in good hands, and I can’t wait to go to sleep.

Five Reasons to Get Off the Painkillers

Two weeks after seeing my lower leg flop from side-to-side, and feeling my bones crunching, I’m off the pain meds. WTF, Cordes, don’t be such a quitter! (I know, I know, but at least I failed in my initial attempts to be a quitter. You can’t do nuthin’ right.) Fuck those things. Oh no, I can hear friends who were near me after my spinal surgery say, Here he goes, the salty “hates painkillers” thing.

Pre-spinal surgery, 2005.

Back in 2005 I had major a spinal reconstruction, with fusion, at L4-5. My articulating facets had fractured and the disc was gone, completely disintegrated, with the two vertebrae 50% offset, the overlap keeping my spinal cord (the cauda equina at that level, technically) from shearing off but causing it to run through two 90-degree bends (ouch), with the vertebral bodies grinding together, bone-on-bone. It had deteriorated for years. I think our Great Trango climb, in 2004, was the final straw. There’s something gruesome about bone-on-bone pain. I went without painkillers until post-surgery, and then I hated the damn things, just as I hate them now. So, I’d be grumpy as all hell, taking the minimum, my friends urging, “Take one of those freakin’ drugs already.”

Forgive my macho posturing (I have a girl’s name, after all) – indeed, sometimes ya need the drugs. On those initial attempts to quit, after being off them for 28 and 24 hours, each night I woke squirming at 4:30 a.m. – the pain mostly comes out at night, mostly – tried to resist for awhile, but took an Oxycodone (lasts 3-4 hrs) and it felt good and I slept like a baby for another few hours. Rest is important. But the drugs make me feel stupid, and I don’t need any help in that department.

So, yeah, I’m a little grouchy.

I’m heading-in tomorrow for some heavy-duty construction, and might require another surgery a week later. I expect the post-surgery pain to be the worst yet of this episode, and being off the drugs going-in might allow them to more fully work their magic when I need them. Weird, I can feel myself getting surly and intense. I know I have a huge road ahead, and I’m ready. BTW, fear-not the bored with low standards: I’ve got a couple of posts pre-loaded to run in case I don’t feel up to comprising more drivel like this list of reasons to get off the painkillers:

To mix, or not to mix?

1. Margaritas. This one’s a mixed bag, because the drugs seem to greatly amplify alcohol’s effects. When I’m edgy, hurting, looking like Charles Bukowski, I don’t know if mixing is a good or a bad thing. Probably bad. And I’m sorry for my un-authenticity here, for those who’ve put faith in me as a raging margoholic, but I don’t like feeling too loopy. I hate feeling out of control. It’s why I correct people who try to call me an “adrenaline junkie” – those people don’t understand climbing. I love the alpine because it’s wild. Finding self-control amid chaos is a truly wonderful thing. But the chaos of alcohol-with-narcotics wigs me out a little. And Jenna gets on my case when I mix them, thus giving further reason to transition off the drugs and onto the margs.

2. In the words of the inimitable Hankster (Hank Caylor), who phoned me with encouragement and advice – when I told him how I hate the drugs, he said:

“Yeah, but dude, other people love those things! Stock-up because it’ll make you super popular when you’re recovering. [name removed] will suck my dick for a sandwich and a Percocet.”

Uhhh, OK, thanks Hank…

3. I can auction off the leftovers for charity (or for the bills my insurance company weasels out of paying; anybody against insurance reform has clearly never been sick). It would be a wondrous cross-cultural affair, a true melting pot of peoples (ever notice how the already plural “people” needs to be “peoples” in order to be a true soft-speaking brah), not unlike riding public transportation or a coast-to-coast trip on the Greyhound. We need a volunteer for the role of hippie negotiator, for when the DEA comes for the bust, to say, “But, c’mooonnn, bro. It’s for a good caaause!”

4. As Rush Limbaugh proved, any dipshit can get hooked on prescription narcotics. It takes talent to pour and appreciate a good margarita.

5. The mind is everything. Physical pain is your mind’s interpretation of your body’s signals. Sure, sometimes ya need the drugs, but minimizing them helps. I think it helps even if it makes me a little edgy, simply because tomorrow begins a long and painful road, and for things like this it always helps to toughen the fuck up.

Marg Recipe: The ATC 30-30

Feeling horrible through the night on our first attempt at Shingu Charpa. Josh Wharton photo.

Yak. “Oh SweetJesusofMaryandAllah, I wish they had someone like, something like – yak! – the Alpine Training Center down in Khande,” I gasped between brain addled heaves. Josh shot me a puzzled look. We were one-third up Shingu Charpa’s stunning, unclimbed, 5,000-foot north ridge and my already pea-sized brain shriveled with hypoxic prophecies. But sure enough, the ATC opened last year in Boulder (though I remain unaware of Connie’s plans on opening an affiliate in the village of Khande) – and they do kick-ass, sport-specific, work-hardening, high-intensity training for climbers, skiers, and outdoor athletes.

A few days into mine and Josh Wharton’s trip to Pakistan’s Nangma Valley in 2006, I gasped for air and spit blood, wishing for one of those huge bungee-cord things to clip to the back of Josh’s harness. Phenoms like him, it seems, don’t need to acclimatize. But I suck. Not that the ATC would help with acclimatization, but I’m on a roll here and altitude is not one of my gifts. Margarita making (and drinking), however, is. So Josh and I – emphasis on the I – slowed to a crawl at only 15,000′ and passed a long and miserable night on a 30-degree sloping ledge. Down at first light. I felt Josh’s disappointment, but, being the optimist that he is, he said to me, right there on that ledge: “Well, at least you make good margaritas.”

Just last night I sat here feeling sorry for myself, when suddenly my good friend Mark Kelly came by and started kicking my crutches. “Get yer sorry gimp-ass up, ShackBoy.”

“NO, I’m just here with my marg, that’s all I need, me and my marg. And – and these painkillers. That’s all I need.”

Josh Wharton on pitch 18, our second/final attempt at Shingu Charpa.

Mark looked into my empty glass and reminded me: “You know they’re passing the hat for you to buy tequila to help your recovery.”

I did a double back flip on my crutches and we were out the door.

Last night at the ATC in Boulder, they had this cool Community Night, with my friend Graham from Cilo Gear, who makes awesome, no-frills-no-bullshit packs; hardman Jesse Huey giving a cool show despite Windows constantly re-arranging his images (bravo for the improv, Jesse! Next time we’ll pass the hat to buy you a Mac); and emceed by the mighty masterful Dougie Fresh Shepherd. Thanks so much, everyone who came, for all the well wishes and for the margarita fund. Totally unnecessary (though it does help), but immensely appreciated. Thank you.

What’s any of this have to do with my Shingu Charpa opener? Nothing, as with most of my unconnected rambles. But I’m not only getting old, but now I’m gimped up – the absolute worst kind of alpine climber – DearGodNo!, as if he doesn’t spray enough already, now he’s going to start babbling “Ever tell you about the time I climbed the Enormodome?” Yup, it’s coming.

Which reminds me…so this guy walks in to a confessional booth and asks for forgiveness. “What did you do, my son?”

“Well, father, see, there were these two beautiful blonde sisters. And I slept with them both – at the same time.”

“Oh dear,” the priest says, “Say 50 Hail Marys.”

“No way – I’m Jewish,” the man replies.

“But, wait…so why are you telling me??”

“Oh, I’m telling everybody!”

So here’s this week’s marg recipe, the Thuty-Thuty (30-30), with big thanks to all who came out last night:

Tequila: 30-30 Reposado, reserva especial

An exceptional value – and not like, “Oh, you mean it sucks but it’s cheap.” This stuff’s pretty good. But not too good – this blog hasn’t hit the big-time yet (still waiting on Hollywood), so we’re talking climbers here. 30-30 runs about $20 for a 750mL bottle, not too bad. These smaller brands can sometimes be real gems, as they don’t spend all their money on marketing to frat boys and hipsters, but just focus on the tequila. Something to consider when checking out the local liquor store’s selection, especially the sales (as you should), but remember to always get 100% agave tequila NO MATTER WHAT – that other crap, like Cuervo Gold, is freakin’ mixed with paint thinner or something, and – OK, I’ll go off on that sub-swill another time… By the way, in these mid-to-lower end tequilas, I usually go with their Reposados or Anejos. Though I love a good Blanco, in the cheaper stuff Blancos can be a little harsh.

Do two parts tequila, one part triple sec. That’s half your marg.

Triple Sec: cheap stuff

I go cheap on the Triple Sec. DeKuyper, Hiram Walker, whatever. On special occasions – say, double episode of Cops on TV – I go big and use Cointreau, but it’s way pricey. When using really good tequila, skip the Triple Sec all together. With the 30-30, I usually keep it in.

Again, two parts tequila, one part triple sec. That’s half your marg. The other half:

Mix: Minute Maid Limeade mix and Water

Remember, NEVER use sours mix. My god, that stuff blows. The best quick mix is 1 part Minute Maid Limeade, 2 parts water. This is 50% of your marg. Using real limes, freshly squeezed, with simple syrup, makes a splendid mix, but that requires work. And after one of Connie’s ATC training sessions, you’re already worked. We’re climbers, after all, and so sometimes ya just gotta get ‘er done. For those wanting to up the quality, use the fresh limes mix from this post.

Key tip: Add a splash of OJ.

A couple of things to remember, because it can’t be stated enough:

-Real men don’t drink blended margs. On the rocks, with salt.

-Shaken, not stirred.

– I really shouldn’t have to state this, but – no umbrella.

Enjoy, and have a great weekend!

Personal Ad

How would you write a personal ad? NPR had a great and funny program on it yesterday – worth a listen or read – and it sparked a sordid memory… I scrolled through my computer files and there it was: personal ad.doc.

First, let me admit that sometimes my attempts at humor fail so miserably that I want to run away. Like the time, about 10 years ago, when I went to a Halloween party dressed as a pedophile clown – some friends lived in this house with several roommates, and they were thoroughly tasteless dudes. “Hey, I’ll be the funny guy, the hit of the party!” I told myself as I knocked on the door with my crooked wig, messy clown makeup, bottle of booze in a paper bag, tights with a huge sock stuffed down my leg and a homemade clown top that read, “Hey kids, free candy here!” with arrows pointing south. I know, I’m sorry. Really, really bad (though in my defense, it’s not my fault that clowns are creepy). Still, my deadbeat buddies would have laughed. Except my friend hadn’t told me that the party was thrown by their sole respectable housemate, a guy I’d never met with a real job and responsibilities, unlike the rest of us. I walked in and I swear the record player skipped and waned to a stop. Mothers clutched their children. Fathers scowled at me. I thought I was going to get my ass kicked. My friends hid their faces and looked away.

Other attempts at humor have been far more benign, but equally unsuccessful. Years ago, before I met Jenna, I figured I’d try an internet dating site – Estes Park can be mighty lonely in winter, a place where men are men and the sheep are scared. This site had a free trial or something, and claimed to be geared toward active outdoor folks. I saw pictures of cute chicks climbing, running, riding bikes, stuff like that. Sweet. Only, how do you write a personal ad without sounding like a total douche? A sense of humor is a wonderful thing, right? Here was my meager attempt:

Thirty-something climbing bum with no discernable qualities seeks non-annoying hottie with low standards and bad eyesight for a short-term, meaningless relationship. Not interested in just “friendship,” I have plenty of friends. But who knows, maybe love or *@#%?@!??. We can enjoy romantic weekends at my cabin (after I go climbing with my friends) swilling margaritas and reading Bukowski. Must be comfortable with yourself, have a strong sense of self-identity and be willing to change the things about you that I don’t like. Psychos need not apply. Nice car a plus.

P.S. I do yoga sometimes.

Well, I thought it was funny. Zero replies. Not one. What ever happened to a sense of humor? Which reminds me of a joke:

Q: How many women does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A: That’s not funny, you asshole!

Fortunately, my days of personal ads are through (and now poor Jenna has to deal with my misguided sense of humor…). But if you were placing one, what would it say – got any good ones to share? Or maybe you’ve had some total flops in the world of internet dating? (If at least you got a date you did better than me.) There have to be some good stories out there.

Of Super Bowls and What-Not

First, thanks so much for the encouraging comments – I’m inspired and humbled. It all helps and means more than just words. Thank you.

Soon I’ll post more about my accident. Guess I just don’t feel like digging into it yet. Perhaps after surgery – getting that dialed is my top priority right now, and today I have consults with two great surgeons. Unfortunately there’s no great accident story, and we can’t figure out exactly why I ended up with this horribly shattered leg. Maybe the lesson is, “Life is safer on the couch.” But that wouldn’t be life, now, would it?

No food up there. But damn...The Black Canyon this past fall.

Speaking of the couch, little is more absurd than a bunch of grown men in what look like bad Halloween spaceman costumes chasing a funny-shaped ball around a painted rectangle, patting themselves on the asses, taunting one another, and wagging their tails in the end zones. Except, perhaps, the absurdity that a hundred thousand people pile into a stadium to spectate and millions more watch and shout and cheer and curse at their idiot boxes, while planted firmly on their duffs and glued to every move and jiggle as if it really means something. Actually, wait – something might be more absurd: climbing. No food up there. No reason to go. No extrinsic rewards. Potential to get bowed-up mightily. At least the football players get big bucks and hot cheerleaders.

Come to think of it, though, little of what we do actually makes sense. So what the hell. Super Bowl? Sure. I didn’t even know who was playing until we flipped on the tube here at Jenna’s (she gets free cable at her apartment….duuuude! I think I’ve got a new passion, and just in time. Recovery is gonna fly by!).

Spent what seems like half the day just getting my gimp ass in and out of the bathtub, making a meal, and doing things that normally take me five minutes. But that’s OK. Everybody goes through challenges, and challenges bring opportunities. Sometimes, though, the challenges are so tragic and overwhelming that I can’t comprehend it. The people of Haiti, the people of Pakistan in the harrowing earthquake of 2005, the broken down and destitute around the globe, and the devastation and neglect endured by the people of New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina. I’m so lucky.

The people of New Orleans struck me at a particular moment near the end of the game. The New Orleans Saints – I remember them being called “The Aints” because they’ve long been sooo bad – started the Super Bowl – their first ever – down 10 to 0. Well, heck, guys, you had a great season anyway and nobody thought you’d get this far… Whatever, I don’t even particularly like football. So the game went back and forth, with New Orleans going for it, taking chances, seemingly unafraid like someone – a person, a team, a city – with nothing left to lose, and they held a slim lead as their opponents, the Indianapolis Colts, drove downfield with a couple of minutes left. The Colts seemed to have the momentum as their star quarterback dropped back and threw a pass. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, a rocket-fast New Orleans defender named Tracy Porter – a Louisiana native who was struck-down midseason with what was reportedly first considered a season-ending injury – stepped in front of the receiver and intercepted the ball. Colts players closed in to tackle him. Cool. Football, OK.

Tracy Porter heading for the end zone. Times-Picayune photo.

But life isn’t just a series of physical movements – touchdowns and tackles, interceptions and climbs, summits and fractures. The human elements give actions meaning.

And so that’s why, as I watched the New Orleans guy intercept that pass, and watched him point his teammate to block the would-be tackler, as he raced 74 yards to the end zone pumping his hand like it was more than just a game, for a moment I saw the people of New Orleans and something more than guys in goofy spacesuits, and I stood up on my crutches and cheered, yelling at the TV.

Bad Breaks

Well, damn. I’ve never wanted to take myself too seriously, and enjoy laughing about the Sketchy Kelly days – as I did in my last post. Besides, perspective is good, and so it’s all the more ironic that my disintegrated leg and perhaps disintegrated climbing future happened in Hyalite, but didn’t even happen while climbing. While climbing, I was everything but Sketchy Kelly – I climbed well, placed lots of pro, even protected the easy exit ice, even backed-up our anchor.

Perhaps the worst thing about fracturing my tibia & fibula – with a “Pilon Fracture” and the tibia end “heavily comminuted” – pulverized, turned to powder – wasn’t just the pain, which definitely hurt, but the psychological impact of seeing my right foot and lower leg flopping from side-to-side. Surreal. Logistically, the problem is that it’s close to the ankle joint, which greatly increases the complexity of the repair and the long-term recovery prospect. I’m looking at a huge recovery. I’ll write more about the details as time passes – I’ll be having considerably more free time, which I’ll put to good use watching TV, writing, and, most importantly, drinking margaritas (hey, at least that part’s good, right? There we go, always looking for that silver lining…).

There’s a fair bit going through my mind and I’m a little loopy, a little rougher than even normal, so pardon the sketchy writing. For now, I know a few things:

-I’m grateful to have been with my good friend Steve Halvorson, who’s a longtime climbing partner, an ER doc, and teaches wilderness medicine and rescue courses. He did an incredible job splinting my grotesque, bones-grinding-together lower leg and getting me out. He could not have done any better, and his splinting and care surely help my long-term prognosis. It took four sans-painkiller hours of him pulling me, pushing me, lifting me, me pushing up, me doing sit-ups, and just keeping it all in perspective, but he got me out. Side note, along the lines of “Hey, anybody here order a pizza?” fairytales: Near the bottom of the canyon, close to the trail but with some hard, steep terrain to go, we heard voices. Steve ran out – 13 people from a Montana Wilderness School of the Bible outing, doing a snow camping and winter climbing course. I shit you not. My thanks to them, including Adam and Brooke, who were running the deal, and were professional, patient, and endured my filthy language without flinching.

Feeling great on the sixth pitch of "Broken Hearts," in Cody, a few days before. photo: Justin Woods

Irony number 800 – upon seeing my friend Pete Tapley in the parking lot that morning – Pete was my partner in the Black Magic post from all those years ago – we joked how I’m smart to climb with a doc. Indeed. And just beforehand, in Cody, I climbed for three incredible days with Justin Woods, who’s a paramedic and also does wilderness med and rescue work. And so it would seem that I’ve been getting smarter… Go figure. Will post some about our three great days in Cody, climbing amazing ice in spectacular landscapes, and enjoying the wonderful hospitality of The-Cody-Man, Aaron Mulkey. In short, the thing that made me most psyched about Cody wasn’t just that we did some hard and scary climbs, but that I climbed so well, completely in control, and made them as safe as they could possibly be. Whereas I might’ve been able to do those climbs years ago, I couldn’t have done them with that level of control. Feeling in-control of yourself and of your outcome is a wonderful, empowering thing.

-Was so psyched. Not only on how good I’d been feeling, but on so many things in life finally coming together after a rugged 2009. Had two Alaska trips planned, and one Pakistan trip, for 2010 (had just learned of scoring grant money for the latter). But I’m still so fortunate. Everyone deals with things in life. Most of the time, it’s good, but sometimes it’s challenging. Challenge gives opportunity. While I’d be OK without some of these opportunities, what can you do? The randomness and unknowns of life add to its beauty.

-I don’t know, what’s irony? Just a funny way of looking at things. It’s not as if one causes the other. Shit happens.

-I’m grateful for having so many deadbeat, unemployed friends who are offering and able to drive my gimp ass around. Jenna is nearly out of days-off from teaching, after all of her med appointments this year, and dealing with my stuff is the last thing I want to add to her plate. I’ve got two appointments with excellent surgeons on Monday (in Bozeman they did a minor surgery to attach the external fixator – a gnarly cage-like thing to stabilize my bones; but it was too swollen to do the major surgery there, need to wait for the swelling to subside a little). We need to get this fixed soon, before the bone fragments auto-fuse.

-After the break, while sitting in the snow, looking across the gorgeous canyon, trying to breathe and to keep my pain and head together, I was grateful. I could see the slopes leading to climbs where I’d cut my teeth as a young Montana climber, places where I’d formed great friendships, places where friends were climbing and loving life at that very moment, climbs like Winter Dance that, still, 10+ years later, rank among my best days ever. To gaze across the blanketed white wilderness and appreciate all that I have, and all that I have had until then, even as life can change so quickly. I was also grateful to still be here, grateful for my friends both with me and since passed, grateful for everything.

-So, despite some confusion and uncertainty ahead, for sure I know that rehab, with hopes for an eventual full-recovery, will be a battle. Life changes, we all know this, and I know this more than ever after this past year. But I’m starting to get ready, down in my gut, getting ready for the fight.

Black Magic

Our packs are packed and I’m sitting in my friend Steve Halvorson’s kitchen in Bozeman, sipping coffee and listening to Jonny Cash. I haven’t climbed in Hyalite Canyon in years, though when I drift back great memories flood my mind. When I drift too far back, though, I shake my head at one particular Hyalite story, of the sort that earned me my old moniker: “Sketchy Kelly.” Steve remembers the Sketchy Kelly days, as he was one of my early climbing partners when we both lived in Missoula, dirtbagging it. He’s since turned respectable, is an M.D., still gets after it and is still a great friend – reflecting on us back in Missoula, it’s comforting to know that at least half of today’s team turned out all right. I do contribute to our friendship, though, as I pour a damned good margarita. And depending on how today’s return to Hyalite goes, maybe I can be re-dubbed “Respectable Kelly”? Yeah, I think that has a nice ring to it.

Anyway, here’s an old story I wrote after an early epic in Hyalite – it’s not the greatest effort, but at least I survived. OK, time for another cup of coffee, then into the canyon…


Me on Black Magic, about 100 feet before implosion, ca 1997(?)

Verglas seeped and shimmered from dark Hyalite rock, the glaze thickening with altitude until long, slender tentacles – like the crooked fingers of a wicked witch – spilled from the curtain above. The name befit the line: Black Magic.

I was a young, obsessed climber living in Montana and – of course – I wanted to climb an Alex Lowe route. Although my ability didn’t match my ambition, I figured that Black Magic was one of Alex’s easier climbs – and it was “in.” Sort of.

I had no idea that there was more to hard routes than strength and a modicum of skill.

Pete Tapley and I chugged loads of coffee, gathered the gear clustered about Pete’s floor and did the bumper-car-boogie up the deep ruts into Hyalite, with an old Metallica tape blasting from the cheap car stereo. Lashing out the action returning the reaction weak are ripped and torn away! Though Pete was a far better climber, somehow I’d managed, from back in the comforts of his living room, to stake claim to the lead. Smashing through the boundaries, lunacy has found me, cannot stop the battery!

I nearly fell in the stream on the approach, my overloaded nerves jittery with anticipation.

We emptied the packs, flaked the ropes, and I cinched my boots. Pete handed me the rock gear and I began racking.

“Uh, you’ve got ice screws too, right, Pete?”

I knew who was supposed to have the screws. Shit.

We fished through the pebbles and candy bar wrappers in the depths of our packs, and came up with two Spectres. Hell, the route was mostly rock anyway – and from my foreshortened view, the ice looked like the easy part. So I was missing a few screws.

“I’ll do it!”

I battled the butterflies and embraced the moment. I’d never climbed anything like it. And for 80 glorious feet, I climbed outside myself, just as I had dreamed, imagining myself as my hero on the first ascent. Where the verglas grew to brittle, thick ice, I found a stance, constructed a rock mini-anchor, clipped the red rope and gazed upward.

It was steeper than it looked from below. I set off.

Forty feet above my last wobbly Spectre and a tied-off icicle – not a chance in hell either would hold a fall – and one move from the top, I was imploding. Desperate for security, like the rookie I was I over-swung and over-gripped. I was no Alex Lowe.

My arm got stupid, my meager swings flopping my axe to the ice like a dying fish needing water.

10, 9, 8…

Finally, one tool stuck. I locked off, fumbled a hand from the other leash, barely managed to grab a draw, and tried to clip it to the tool. But my trembling hand bumped it, and the tool fell. A 140 foot freefall, a quiet puff into the snow. My body quivered. Pete says he wanted to puke.

Still locked off on the wobbly sole remaining tool, I could do nothing. I was going to whip huge.

5, 4, 3…

Pete swears that my brain suddenly tripled in size when suddenly I flipped a sling from around my neck, tossed it over the tool, clipped the yellow rope, and called “take.” Sweating and trembling, I Jedi-mind-trick-willed the teetering tool to stay put as Pete gently fed slack, lowering me toward the rock anchor.

He kept lowering me on yellow while taking in slack on red. It’s still the best belay I’ve ever seen.